What Is the Definition of Statutory Rape Laws in California?

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 How Is Statutory Rape Defined in California?

Statutory rape refers to a situation in which a person over the age of consent engages in sexual intercourse with someone who is under the statutory age of consent. This person is also known as a minor. In nearly every state, the age of consent has been arbitrarily designated by statute and can vary widely from state to state. Statutory rape is a strict liability crime. What this means is that if it is believed that the younger person consented, or a mistake was made regarding their age, neither would serve as a legitimate defense.

In California, the age of consent is 18 years old. According to California statutory rape laws, specifically under California Penal Code 261.5 PC, statutory rape is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse with an individual under 18 years old who was not the defendant’s spouse at the time of the intercourse. Statutory rape is considered to be a crime regardless of whether the act was consensual or allowed by the minor.

Does a Prosecutor Have to Prove Anything to Convict Me of This Crime?

In some jurisdictions, anyone may press charges for statutory rape. If someone over the age of consent has sex with someone under the age of consent, the older individual may still go to jail even if the only person pressing charges is the arresting officer. Meaning, the younger person does not need to press charges in order for the older person to be charged.

In order to convict a defendant of statutory rape, a prosecutor must prove the following three elements:

  • The defendant had sex with the victim, generally intercourse although some states include other activities in their definition of rape;
  • The defendant and victim were not married when the sexual intercourse occurred; and
  • At the time the defendant and victim had sex, the victim was under the age of eighteen years old.

Generally speaking, the age and marital status of the parties involved will be easy to verify as evidence. Some specific examples of potential evidence could include:

  • Written records of dates and times in which sexual encounters occurred;
  • Emails, text messages, and voicemails containing information regarding meetings between the parties involved;
  • Physical items, such as clothing or personal belongings; and/or
  • Witness statements, if applicable.

Are Rape and Statutory Rape the Same Crime?

Rape is generally defined as someone forcing another person to have sex against their will. Another way to define rape is as unlawful sexual intercourse with a person, without their consent, without regarding the age of the victim.

Statutory rape is defined as when the government has passed laws determining that in certain situations, even if both people consent, it is still against the law. Statutory rape heavily focuses on the age of the victim. As such, rape and statutory rape are not the same crime.

Can Statutory Rape Be a Misdemeanor? Is Statutory Rape a Felony?

California adheres to a tiered system in which the greater the difference in age, the greater the penalty. If the person engaging in sex with a minor is less than three years older or younger than the minor, then they are guilty of a misdemeanor crime. If they are more than three years older than the minor, then they are guilty of a felony crime.

Those over the age of 21 engaging in sex with those under 16 are subjected to considerably more harsh penalties. In particular, if the individual accused of statutory rape is 21 years of age or older, and the victim is under the age of 16, the criminal act is a felony offense punishable by 2 to 4 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.

What Does it Mean When Statutory Rape is a Wobbler? What is the Penalty for Statutory Rape in California?

A wobbler is a crime that could be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances as well as the prosecutor. Statutory rape is considered a wobbler when the defendant is at least three years older than the victim, and the victim is sixteen years old or older.

Statutory rape punishments in CA generally include the following:

  • Jail sentence ranging from twelve months to four years in a county jail;
  • Probation with a jail sentence of up to one year, to be spent in a county jail;
  • Probation with no jail time but rather mandatory community service, a work release program, or rehabilitative therapy;
  • Formal probation in which a probation officer is assigned. There may also be additional restrictions placed on the probation by the Court, such as not being allowed to go within a certain distance of the victim, such as 1000 feet, or other reasonable restrictions. Conditions for formal probation may also include wearing an ankle monitor; or
  • Sex offender registration, pursuant to California Penal Code section 290.

Statutory rape jail time varies according to the severity of the crime. If charged with misdemeanor statutory rape, the defendant could face probation, up to one year in jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000. If charged with felony statutory rape, then the defendant can face probation with up to one year in jail, or a range of 16 months to possibly 4 years in prison. Additionally, they could face a fine of up to $10,000.

What Are the Defenses for Statutory Rape?

If charged with statutory rape, it is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who specializes in sex crimes. The two most commonly utilized statutory rape defenses are:

  • It was honestly and reasonably believed that the minor was over the age of eighteen; and
  • No actual sexual intercourse between the defendant and the minor occurred.

Some examples evidence which may be used for such a defense could include the following:

  • The minor themselves stated that they were over the age of eighteen, or made statements alluding to such;
  • The minor showed proof that they were over the age of eighteen, such as producing a fake ID; and
  • The defendant met the minor in an adult venue which would lead them to believe that they were of consenting age.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Statutory Rape Charges?

If you are facing statutory rape charges, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable California criminal law attorney as soon as possible. As the process varies so widely for each state, it will be imperative that you hire a local attorney who will likely be knowledgeable of local laws and statutes that will affect your case.

An experienced criminal law attorney will consider the facts of your case when determining whether there are any defenses available to you. Additionally, a criminal law attorney will defend your rights and represent you in court, while potentially arguing for a reduced sentence.

If you are the victim of statutory rape, you should consult with a personal injury attorney. It is imperative that your rights are protected and justice is served. The attorney can work towards a damages award that could reimburse you for medical costs associated with the crime, including hospital bills and therapy costs. Although difficult, you should act as quickly as possible to preserve as much evidence as possible.


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